On the clock with a few thoughts on NFL Draft coverage while wondering if Jaylen Waddle ever went back in to see his family and friends …
Mike Greenberg, who debuted as the host of ESPN’s primary draft coverage Thursday night, is the network’s modern, quintessential homogenized studio personality.
He’s never going to offend the Disney corporate overlords. He’s never going to forget to plug the candy bar that sponsored Suzy Kolber’s interview segments with players. He’ll feed Roger Goodell’s ego (he told the commissioner Thursday night the players missed his hugs last year).
He’ll dabble in shtick, but not offensively so, and his gotta-sell-this hyperbole is harmless, such as when he announced the 49ers’ selection of North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, a suspenseful but hardly stunning development, by saying, “The National Football League draft, when the improbable becomes probable!” I mean, it was fairly probable all along.
But after doing a little social media crowdsourcing on what people watched for coverage, and receiving a wide range of responses on Greenberg’s performance, I realized that he’s more of a cipher than a personality. Viewers see what they want to see in him.
Much of the response was negative — he was described as “insufferable,” “unbearable,” and “a deal-breaker.” The only compliments came regarding ESPN’s overall coverage, particularly the contributions of Louis Riddick (the gold standard) and Mel Kiper Jr. I didn’t think it was totally fair.
Now, I’m not a Greenberg guy. I would not have believed you a half-dozen years ago if you’d told me he would eventually be front and center on ESPN’s draft coverage, while his affable “Mike and Mike” show radio partner, Mike Golic, would no longer be at the network. I think Trey Wingo, who was phased out at ESPN in 2020 after he expressed a desire to no longer host a radio program, should still be at the network, anchoring its draft coverage. (He hosted Fox Sports’ livestream of the draft.)
But looking at it through clear eyes and attempting to avoid any preconceived notions, I thought Greenberg was fine during the first round. That show has to be incredibly challenging to host given that it’s about as unpredictable and complex as a live studio program gets. He smoothly served as the air traffic controller, setting up Riddick, Kiper, and Booger McFarland for their insights.
Greenberg wasn’t insufferable or unbearable. What some of us thought we saw, and what some of us expected to see, wasn’t what really happened. He was competent and professional, a performance that surely made his bosses happy.
· Greenberg sold the heck out of the musical set at the top of the draft. “They’ve been rocking this house all night long. Ladies and gentlemen, here are Kings of Leon!” said Greenberg. I’ll let you know if I ever encounter anyone that actually wants a concert at a sporting event, other than at halftime of the Super Bowl. Hasn’t happened yet. It was wholly unnecessary when viewers were already anticipating the Jaguars’ selection of Trevor Lawrence to get the draft started. Also, Kings of Leon? Did Third Eye Blind have a previous engagement?
· ESPN is my default on draft night, mostly because of respect for Riddick (who revealed knowledge that Bears coach Matt Nagy did not prefer Mitchell Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft) and curiosity of seeing how Kiper will react to the Patriots’ pick. I caught up on the ABC and NFL Network coverage of the first round Friday morning. The ABC broadcast, featuring Rece Davis (ESPN’s best studio host), Todd McShay, Desmond Howard, and Kirk Herbstreit, provided expert first-person insight on draft picks, centered on their college careers. The standout on the NFL Network was Daniel Jeremiah, who has broken out as a well-informed draft guru since Mike Mayock left to join Jon Gruden with the Raiders.
· In last season’s virtual draft because of the pandemic, ESPN emphasized personal hardships and tragedy of draft picks so often that it began to feel manipulative. It was a relief to see that the network cut back greatly on that this year. The players deserve to celebrate this milestone achievement of becoming a professional football player without reminding them of the worst thing that ever happened to them.
· There were moments of levity this year, though nothing quite as amusing as last year’s scene of Bill Belichick’s dog, Nike, sitting alone at the coach’s home setup. (Maybe Belichick can blame the dog for the Justin Rohrwasser pick.) It was laugh-out-loud funny when Waddle, chosen sixth by the Dolphins, ran a go-route out of his individual room at the draft just as his family and friends began approaching him to celebrate. That’s some serious breakaway speed.
· I don’t get what Goodell and the league were going for by using the chair from his basement that he sat in during last year’s draft as an on-stage prop this year. It’s like he thinks that thing belongs in the Smithsonian or something.
· I switched over to NBC Sports Boston’s “On the Clock: NFL Draft Special” when the Patriots’ first pick was nearing. Tom E. Curran’s institutional knowledge and Phil Perry’s thorough draft prep made for quality instant analysis of the Mac Jones selection. The only annoyance was when they turned a bit later to Michael Felger, who begrudgingly acknowledged he liked the pick, then immediately groped around for reasons to complain about it.
· When Jones was selected, ESPN showed a picture he drew as a 7-year-old that said he wanted to be a professional football player someday. Sketching out that daydream is probably not uncommon for 7-year-old sports fans. It seemed to me like a missed opportunity for a chuckle; someone on set should have said that he drew it in the green room while waiting to be picked. Greenberg would never.
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